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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Crime & Courts

Convicted killer of Highlands County lawyer dies in prison

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Published:   |   Updated: July 19, 2014 at 06:33 PM

— Convicted murderer Michael Branham died July 10 at Dade Correctional Institution, a Florida Department of Corrections official has confirmed.

Branham, a retired Avon Park Police officer, was accused of shooting his wife, Janette, 40, a prominent Highlands County attorney, in July 2005.

On Friday, Houchin, who confirmed the death through the Corrections Department website, recalled both Branhams. “She worked here a number of years for me. I worked with both of them. Michael dated her while she worked for me. It’s a small world.”

Sentenced to life in prison, Branham lived seven more years. Although it appeared he died of natural causes, a medical examiner will determine his exact cause of death, said spokeswoman Jessica Cary.

Although he fired 13 times at close range, his defense was that she was approaching with a pair of scissors.

After a 10-day trial in September 2007, Hardee County jurors decided in 30 minutes that Branham was guilty of first-degree murder.

Their decision was painful and joyous for Janette’s mother, Kathy Seamans. “I want to thank (Michael Branham) for the joy he brought to our family when he first met (Janette). “I have forgiven him. I speak only for myself, and I do so, so that our hearts will not live in the black hell that his has. It doesn’t mean I like him, or want to have anything to do with him.”

Branham, a former Avon Park police officer who weighed 394 pounds and was shackled in a wheelchair, showed no emotion as the jury’s verdict was read.

After the murder trial, her parents sued Branham in Highlands County Circuit Court. Judge Olin Shinholser awarded them more than $7 million in damages, ruling that Branham intentionally pursued his wife’s death.

Wiltgen said Branham abused Janette and that the domestic violence became too much for their marriage. “She loved her husband in the week prior to her death. But she couldn’t live with him anymore.

“(Janette) is free forever and ‘Tiny,’ you are not,” Patty Seamans, Janette’s sister-in-law, used his nickname.

“Michael Branham shot that gun 13 times and he hit his target 13 times,” said Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin. “Thirteen was important to the defendant. It’s spooky, it was a theme to him. He was counting his shots as he was pulling that trigger. How poetic, (Janette) was going to leave after 13 years of marriage.”

Janette Branham, who lived in Hardee County, was a well-known and well-liked attorney. A former 10th Judicial Circuit prosecutor, she had gone into criminal defense practice in Avon Park and advocated for children. Attorneys have established an annual scholarship in her name.

gpinnell@highlandstoday.com

863-386-5828

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